What is Radon?
When radium decays, the radon gas is released into the surrounding air, ground or water. Since Radon-222 has a half life of 3.8 days, it has enough time to move from the source of radium into buildings and homes where both radon and its decay products can be inhaled.
The decay products--------- Polonium-218, Lead-214, Bismuth and Polonium-214--------- have a very short half life time periods. These decay products account for the major portion of the dose received by humans in most situations, and are the primary source of radon-inhaled lung cancer.
Polonium-218 and Polonium-214 are the alpha-emitters that do most of the damage. Bismuth-214 and Lead-214 are beta-emitters and are also produce most of the gamma radiation in the decay chain.
It all starts with Uranium-238. It has a half life of 4.5 billion years. When it decays, It emits an alpha particle to become Thorium-234.
Thorium-234 has a half life of 24.5 days. When it decays, it emits a beta particle and a Gamma ray to become Protactinium-234.
Protactinium-234 has a half life of 269,000 years. When it decays, it emits a beta particle and a gamma ray to become Thorium-230.
Thorium-230 has a half life of 83,000 years. When it decays, it emits an alpha particle and a gamma ray to become Radium-226.
Radium-226 has a half life of 1,590 years. When it decays, it emits an alpha particle and a gamma ray to become Radon-222.
Radon-222 has a half life of 3.8 days. When it decays, it emits an alpha particle to become Polonium-218.
Polonium-218 has a half life of 3.05 minutes. When it decays, it emits an alpha particle to become Lead-214.
Lead-214 has a half life of 26.8 minutes. When it decays, it emits a beta particle and a gamma ray to become Bismuth-214.
Bismuth-214 has a half life of 19.7 minutes. When it decays, it emits either an alpha particle or a beta particle and a gamma ray to become either Thallium-210 or Polonium-214.
Polonium-214 has a half life of 150 microseconds. When it decays, it emits an alpha particle to become Thallium-210.
Thallium-210 has a half life of 1.32 minutes. When it decays, it emits a beta particle and a gamma ray to become Lead-210.
Lead-210 has a half life of 22 years. When it decays, it emits a beta particle and a gamma ray to become Bismuth-210.
Bismuth-210 has a half life of 5 days. When it decays, it emits a beta particle to become Polonium-210.
Polonium-210 has a half life of 138 days. When it decays, it emits an alpha particle and a gamma ray to become Lead-206.
Lead-206 is a stable element.
How does Radon cause cancer.
Radon decay products are different from Radon in a few ways that make radon decay products dangerous. Among the characteristics are:
- They are the source of cell damage in the lungs.
- They are short-lived products (less than 30 minutes), but the most significant.
- They have static electrical charges.
- They are chemically reactive.
- They are solid particles, rather than gases, that act like invisible aerosols in the air.
- They are classified as heavy metals.
All of these characteristics make radon decay products capable of easily attaching themselves to solid objects such as dust, smoke, walls, floors, carpets, clothing or any other object. If radon decay products attach to surfaces, they no longer floating the air and are said to "plate out". If they attach to dust or smoke particles, they can be carried into the lungs as we breath where they can cause lung cancer.
When we inhale radon decay products, dust and smoke that are plate out, they decay, giving off tiny radioactive particles. These radioactive particles can damage the cells that line the lungs. Long-term exposure to radon can lead to lung cancer, the only cancer that is proven to be associated with inhaling radon.
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in people who smoke and radon is the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. if you live with high levels of radon in your home or at work, it increases your risk for lung cancer. In the United States, scientists estimate that approximately 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer deaths per year are related to radon.
U.S/ Environmental Protection Agency's lifetime safety stands for carcinogens are established based on a 1 in 100,000 risk of death. Most scientists agree that the risk of death for radon at 4 picoCuries per Liter is approximately 1 U.S. citizen in 50. At the 4 picoCuries per Liter action guide levels, radon carries approximately1000 times the risk of death as any other E.P.A. carcinogen.
Indoor radon kills 70 times more people then accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in homes. In the 2010 Wisconsin Code; Chapter 101 Department of Commence; 101.647 Carbon Monoxide detectors, all residential housing should have carbon monoxide detectors installed. Wisconsin doesn't have any code to protect you from radon gas. It is up to you to protect yourself and your loved ones.
There have been no reports of short-term exposure or symptoms caused by radon exposure. The only reported long-term effect is lung cancer. If you inhale a radon atom, the atom can disintegrate while it is still in your lungs. When it disintegrates, it becomes Polonium-218, which is a metal. This metal atom can settle in your lungs, and over the next hour or so it will emit a number of alpha particles, beta particles and gamma rays. It will eventually turns into Lead-210 with a half life of 22 years, which is a fairly stable in this content. But now you have an atom of lead in your system, which causes it's own problems. It is a quick, hour long sequence of alpha, beta and gamma emissions that can lead to the mutations in the lung tissue, which can cause cancer. Smoking enormously increases the risk of Lung Cancer from radon exposure.
So you can see that a high concentration of radon gas, despite the fact that it is completely natural, is not something you want in your home.
How Radon gets into your home.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is invisible, tasteless and odorless. As you use combustion appliances like water heaters, furnaces, fireplaces, stoves, clothes dryers and exhaust fans, that can create negative pressure (suction) in your home. This helps draw air/gases from any openings in your home and basement. This air/gas might contain humidity, radon or other gases and chemicals leaching through the soils under your home.
Radon is the most dangerous, being an airborne radioactive element, which causes lung cancer. Radon is a naturally produced gas in the decay cycle of Uranium. Uranium is found in the earth's crust in almost all soils, rock and water. Radon is a world wide problem.
Radon is present in nearly all air we breathe. Everybody breathes in radon every day, but usually in very small levels. However, people breathing in high levels of radon in their home or work are at an increased risk of developing lung cancer.